Early Returns

Two Elections That Don't Mean as Much as We Think They Do

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Hang in there, Georgia.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Voters today will decide two special U.S. House elections, in Georgia and South Carolina. Both are traditionally Republican seats, but the race in Georgia is expected to be very close after record spending, and the hype level is at maximum levels. Well, at least I hope this is maximum. So a reminder of what's at stake and what's not:

  • Two U.S. House seats. Each one matters! No, not as much as individual Senate seats, but still -- there are plenty of close votes in the House, and you never know when one vote will make a difference. 
  • Two hints about how the 2018 midterms will turn out. You'll likely hear a lot about that, but really, these are very small hints. All the special elections and off-year elections combined really don't add much to what we can easily get from presidential approval polling. Note that to the extent the outcomes tell us anything at all, what matters is how far they are from the district norms, which means that (for this part of the story) if the outcome in Georgia is close -- as it's expected to be -- it doesn't really matter which candidate wins by a narrow margin.
  • And then there are the indirect effects on 2018 and on governing behavior during the rest of the year. In particular, watch candidate recruitment (including the "negative recruitment" of retirements from a party expecting to have a tough election cycle). This kind of effect, as Nate Silver discusses, is very real, even if it's only based on how political actors interpret events. Still, be careful. As much as the results here could cause changed behavior as assumptions about the political landscape change, it's also true that memories usually fade quickly and with them any effect worth talking about. 

My conclusion? Well, I love a good election, so I'll be paying close attention to the returns. And while I won't fool myself into thinking that we're learning much about 2018 from these specials, even small effects can be worth talking about. If you hear anyone claim that the 2018 elections or the Donald Trump presidency are on the line, however, you might want to consider changing the channel. 

1. Just after the anniversary of the Watergate break-in, Andrew Rudalevige at the Monkey Cage explains what it was really about

2. Seth Masket on the Trump administration's typos

3. Rick Hasen at the Atlantic on the Supreme Court and gerrymanders

4. It's not just the Trump administration; Joe Williams at Roll Call reports that Congress is losing staff, too. 

5. And Fred Kaplan on the administration's non-policy in Syria

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    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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